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Eugene Onegin in English
February 4, 2011 2:28 PM   Subscribe

When discussing Eugene Onegin, how do English speakers typically pronounce the protagonist's first name?

Eugene? Yevgeniy? Something else? Does it make a difference if they are referring to the title of the work or the name of the character? The book or the opera?

I'm not looking for the correct Russian pronunciation. I want to know how the name would typically be pronounced in an English-language conversation. Ideally, I'm thinking of a conversation between people who are quite familiar with Russian literature in translation but who do not speak Russian themselves.
posted by mr_roboto to Writing & Language (17 answers total)
 
I was once tangentially involved with a production of the opera, and the performers and coaches, etc., said "YOU-jeen OH-nye-gin," if I recall.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:32 PM on February 4, 2011


yoo-JEEN
posted by exogenous at 2:32 PM on February 4, 2011


Eugene is an English name, not a Russian name, and so it would be pronounced as usual in English: YOU-jean or you-JEAN.
posted by tel3path at 2:42 PM on February 4, 2011


want to know how the name would typically be pronounced in an English-language conversation. Ideally, I'm thinking of a conversation between people who are quite familiar with Russian literature in translation but who do not speak Russian themselves.

These two options don't match - one pretty much precludes the other, to my mind. In the first instance (typically in English Language) it'd be You-Jean. Every time. However, if you bring in people that are knowledgeable to some extent about the author in question then the chance of them pronouncing it more in context with their origin increases, hence the Russian pronunciation becomes progressively more likely as the interest/knowledge/understanding increases.

I imagine this is where your confusion arises, though, which is why it's not much of an answer. The true answer (or question?) relates to how often people familiar with foreign literature make an effort to pronounce the names of the people involved accurately for their mother tongue, which is potentially much harder to answer.
posted by Brockles at 2:43 PM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


The same way I'd pronounce the city in "Eugene, Oregon".

I think this has to do with the fact that "Yevgeniy" isn't spelled at all like "Eugene", so using the Russian pronunciation seems insufferably pretentious.
posted by madcaptenor at 2:51 PM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


When I saw this opera performed by the Kirov Opera in St Petersburg (then Leningrad) in 1983, I recall our guide giving us a synopsis of the opera on the coach on the way to the Mariinsky theatre and telling us that outside Russian-speaking countries it is called "Eugene Onegin" - said You-jean On-yay-gin (that last 'gin' being with a hard 'g', not soft as in 'gin').
posted by essexjan at 3:03 PM on February 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I can see why you're confused because the issue is whether or not the first name Evgenii should be translated to Eugene in the first place, or left as Evgenii. After all, one could argue that the English equivalent of "Andrei" is "Andrew", and then refer to the film/person of Andrei Rublev as "Andrew Rublev", but of course nobody does that.

However I imagine it is more complicated in the case of Evgenii Onegin because of the heavy foreign influences (especially French) among the Russian upper class at the time. It could be that somebody named Evgenii would have been called "Eugene" in French conversation among the Russian upper class of that era, in which case it makes more sense to translate the name.

If it is standard for English translations of the work to translate the name to Eugene, then I'd say to pronounce it as in English. If there are some translations that keep the name Evgenii and others that don't, then I'd say it's a toss-up.
posted by pravit at 3:06 PM on February 4, 2011


For what it's worth, I grew up in Eugene Oregon and I've noticed that people in the West pronounce it u-jean. People from the Mid-West and further Wast pronounce it uuu-jean, or ewe-jean. I don't know if this is a West Coast / East Coast thing or a familiarity with the name thing, but it's very noticeable.
posted by pwb503 at 4:26 PM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've heard opera buffs pronounce it as "OY-gen on-YAY-gen". Each "g" is pronounced as in "gate". In fact I thought this was standard.

A commenter on a Wikipedia talk page suggests that this is a now dated tradition stemming from the anglosphere adopting the German pronunciation of the Russian (ctrl-f for "oygen" on this linkbait site)
posted by dontjumplarry at 5:11 PM on February 4, 2011


When I discussed this opera in a class, we pronounced it you-JEAN own-YAY-gin.
posted by Adridne at 5:14 PM on February 4, 2011


I'll admit my ignorance and say I don't currently know what Eugene Onegin is, so if I saw it, I would say Eugene as u-jean. (I grew up in Salem, just north of Eugene, OR, for what it's worth.)
posted by asciident at 5:25 PM on February 4, 2011


In Russian lit classes we called it "Evgenii" and when the university did the opera (or something like the opera - it was the theatre department) they said "Eugene." I've seen a few instances, invariably in university towns, bill the play as "Evgenii" (or another anglicized spelling,) but it's pretty rare, and I've mostly lived in university towns. I mean, I've seen this thing billed an awful lot for a Russian production that isn't Swan Lake.

I suspect that outside of a group of people from the Russian department, it'd be much safer to say "Eugene." I certainly wouldn't expect my family to say it any other way, and they're as familiar with Russian literature as I think I can reasonably expect college-educated Americans who didn't take Russian literature classes to be.

Sadly, before heading into this thread I would have secretly mocked someone who said "Oygen." Maybe not so secretly, once the person was out of range.
posted by SMPA at 5:28 PM on February 4, 2011


In my undergrad Russian Literature in Translation class (back in the day) it was u-jean, though the prof (head of the Russian Dept) did make reference to the original pronunciation a couple of times so we'd understand it if we heard it.
posted by Sparx at 6:07 PM on February 4, 2011


I took Russian Lit (in translation) from a Russian, and he said it "You-gene".
posted by lhp81 at 6:47 PM on February 4, 2011


I've heard opera buffs pronounce it as "OY-gen on-YAY-gen". Each "g" is pronounced as in "gate". In fact I thought this was standard.

This drives me nuts when people do it. Also when they pronounce it as if "Eugene" were French, which is another thing opera buffs do. Speak one goddamned language at a time, people! a lot of opera buffs are deeply, deeply pretentious human beings

Either it's "Yevgeny" or it's "Eugene", an English first name that I pronounce "you-JEAN." It's always "on-YAY-gen" because that's his name, not an English (or French or German) equivalent. We talk about the "William Tell Overture" in English, we don't attempt to prounounce "William" in cod-German, after all.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:02 PM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


My Russian literature professor (who actually was Russian -- but the class was conducted in English) always pronounced it 'Ev-gain-ee,' and that stuck for me (our translation had 'Eugene' spelled 'Eugene' rather than 'Yevgeny,' but we saw it both ways). But, right, typically 'Eugene' is pronounced 'Yoo-jeen.'
posted by Mael Oui at 8:42 PM on February 4, 2011


My Russian literature professor, for a course on Russian literature in translation aimed at non-Russian speakers (which still had several Russian-speakers, and the professor was fluent in Russian), pronounced it YOO-gene, as others have mentioned. That's the only way I've heard it pronounced by English speakers.
posted by booknerd at 9:14 AM on February 7, 2011


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